What is daylight saving time (DST)? I think most people believe it is a simple question as I did: that it is a universal time changing practice to move time on the clock forward by one hour in spring and change it back in fall to save energy. But does it actually work? Since it gives me a headache every time the clock changes, I wanted to find out the rationale behind it, but its origin and complexity is astounding.

The first person that proposed DST was a New Zealand entomologist George Hudson. In 1895, He proposed a two-hour-daylight-saving shift in order to have more time to collect insects after his shift-work job, but he didn’t succeed. Later on, English builder and golfer William Willett published his DST proposal in 1907. He believed Londoners waking up late in the summer was waste of time, and he also disliked cutting short his round at dusk in golf course. The DST bill didn’t pass in the House of Commons either.

Strange but true, the first city to implement DST in the world was in Ontario, Canada called Port Arthur in 1908, now a part of Thunder Bay. The first countries to officially adopt DST were the German Empire and Austria-Hungary in 1916, in order to conserve coal during World War I (WWI).

War time poster

Since then, the turmoil around DST kept evolving in the world and never stopped. During WWI, most countries on both sides adopt DST. After the war, many countries dropped it, but Canada, UK, France, Ireland and US kept it. When WWII started, many countries picked it up again, and some of them again abandoned it after the war. The DST world map kept changing over time and around major events. The whole picture of DST is very complicated, below are just list of some different aspects:

  • Currently, 69 countries and territories observe DST including most of developed countries, but 177 do not.
  • Some countries didn’t enact DST constantly, some of them started and stopped several times.
  • Not all jurisdictions in one country observe the same policy, some provinces or even cities can be exceptions.
  • Not all countries change the clock at same date and time, for example, some countries apply the DST a few week later than their neighbours.
  • And this applying date and time for the same country kept changing in different years.
  • The length of DST also could be changed by political or social influences.
  • Even during the DST period, some countries have exceptions, e.g.: Ramadan.
  • DST is not always one hour difference, twenty-minute and two-hour have been used in the past.

So why was it so complicated? The first reason was some authorities wanted to save energy but experienced harshness, so the policy flipped back and forth, e.g.: Austria observed DST in 1916-1918, 1920, 1940-1948 and since 1980. The second was some jurisdiction wanted to express their own willing and made them stand out among their neighbours, e.g.: US observes DST, but Arizona does not, but Navajo Indian Reservation which is part of Arizona observes DST, but Hopi Reservation which is within the Navajo Indian Reservation does not. The third reason was some industries lobbied the authority to change the DST rules only by their own economic interest, e.g.: in the USA, DST lasts six months, but in 2005 it was extended to eight months mostly because candy industry wanted to make more profits by including Halloween in the DST period.

The DST is so complex but it has still been used worldwide, so we almost automatically conclude that it must save energy. But does DST save energy? It could save coal during WWI, but the way energy is used around world has dramatically changed. Let’s look at its impact on energy use for the modern world.

Research in the USA indicates that DST saves electricity use in residential lighting but increases overall energy consumption. The increased energy uses are for heating in the cold mornings, the cooling in the hot evenings and the gasoline used for shopping and other activities.

Research in Australia in 2000 found that energy use didn’t change after they adopted DST in that year. They even recorded overall consumption increased by 0.6% in 2006-2007. Japan also did a study in 2007, and the model showed DST would decrease 0.1% consumption on residential lighting, but would increase 0.2% on cooling, so it would use more energy in total.

So not only does DST not save energy nowadays, it actually wastes more energy overall!

Let’s look at its other effects on our lives.

I think everybody feels discomfort when the clock skips forward one hour in the spring. We have to get up earlier to go to work, eat breakfast earlier one hour when we don’t have the appetite and drive in the dark when we are still sleepy. Now let’s look at the science research and statistics.

A 2009 USA study found that on the Monday after the switch to DST, there workers’ injuries spike in frequency and severity. American Economic Journal published a 2017 study estimated over 30 deaths are caused by the DST transition every year in USA. The American database of 732,835 fatal motor vehicle accidents (MVA) recorded from 1996 to 2017 showed a 6% increase in fatal MVA risk in the workweek following the spring transition to DST. More medical research found that the clock shift to DST increased the risk of heart attack by 10%, and also increased the risk for diabetes, obesity, depression, cancer and suicide. The only reason is this human-made sudden time change which disturbs human circadian rhythms and needs a couple of weeks to recover and readjust.

Do we think we have enough evidence to make a conclusion on this issue? I think yes.

We created a time system to make our lives easier, especially when we communicate or travel, either nationally or globally, so we have a simple universal time coordination system. Since the earth is round, we divide the world into 24 time zones for each hour of the day, but anything more than that is just generating confusion. With this complex DST as we know above, without checking their DST schedule, we have no any confidence that we are going to know somewhere’s local time, and this is very important if we plan to fly to somewhere, drive somewhere or talk to someone around the world. Furthermore, this DST practice interferes with our circadian rhythm and causes all kinds of health issues. So for all of this damage to health and lives lost, we are also wasting energy, not saving it. So what is it about? If it’s only a custom, it has run out the rationale to continue to exist.

You can spring forward, but you won’t save energy

After a little internet research, I found I’m not alone.

In November, 2019, the provincial government in Alberta conducted a DST survey and 91% of Albertans wanted to scrap the changing clock practice. B.C. also did similar survey in the same year and against-DST-rate was even higher at 93%. Treehugger website has an ongoing survey and currently 83.12% people vote yes to discontinue the DST.

Treehugger’s votes

So the answers are clear … it’s time to dump daylight saving time.

References to dig deeper:

1, wikipedia.org/wiki/Daylight_saving_time

2, alberta.ca/daylight-saving-time engagement

3, engage.gov.bc.ca › daylightsavingtime

3, treehugger.com